Manchester United has not always been united. Before 1902, Manchester United were known as Newton Heath, and in 1902, following the club's rescue as they faced bankruptcy the club was renamed Manchester United. At that time it had spent its first years at mediocre grounds, with dirt pitches not suitable for good football. After this the new chairman John Henry Davies decided in 1909 that something had to change, as the current Bank Street ground was not fit for a team that had enjoyed recent success, winning the First Division and FA Cup. The chairman donated funds for the construction of a new stadium and after a rigorous search he found a patch of land adjacent to the Bridgewater Canal in Old Trafford.
Designed by Scottish architect Archibald Leitch, who designed amongst others Anfield, Goodison Park, Craven Cottage and Hampden Park, the ground was originally designed with a capacity of 100,000 spectators and featured seating in the south stand under cover, while the remaining three stands were left as terraces and uncovered.
Building costs rose quickly and were getting out of hand, forcing the club to tune down the capacity of the stadium to approximately 80,000 spectators. Even at that time, United had already been touted Moneybag United, due to the takeover by Davies and his big spending. Development was completed in late 1909. The stadium hosted its inaugural game on 19 February 1910, with United playing archrival Liverpool.
Originally, a station was designed to be constructed in conjunction with the stadium, but due to problems with Davies, it took them till 1935 before Trafford Park station (later named Old Trafford football ground) was opened. In the early years, Old Trafford played host to several FA Cup Finals (during that time, Wembley Stadium was still in the planning and construction phase) and it saw its first (and definitely not last) international match, as England lost to Scotland on April 17, 1926.
In 1936, as part of a £35,000 refurbishment, an 80-yard long roof was added to the United Road stand (now the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand) for the first time, while roofs were added to the south corners in 1938. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Old Trafford was requisitioned by the military to be used as a depot. Football continued to be played at the stadium, but a German bombing raid on Trafford Park on 22 December 1940 damaged the stadium to the extent that a Christmas day fixture against Stockport County had to be switched to Stockport's ground.
Football resumed at Old Trafford on 8 March 1941, but another German raid on 11 March 1941 destroyed much of the stadium. It took quite some time, effort and money to reopen the ground, which eventually took place in 1949. Though Old Trafford was reopened, albeit without cover, in 1949, United's first game back at Old Trafford was played on 24 August 1949, as 41,748 spectators witnessed a 3–0 victory over Bolton Wanderers.
Post War Development
In the 1950s, the refurbishing and extension of Old Trafford continued, as a roof was restored to the Main Stand by 1951 and, soon after, the three remaining stands were covered as floodlighting was installed during the same period. The inaugural floodlight match was between Bolton Wanderers and the home team, on March 25, 1957.
The ground still had some inconveniences, such as view-restricting pillars to uphold the roof. Before the 1966 FIFA World Cup, the pillars were replaced by Old Trafford’s iconic cantilevering on the roof top. In the process, the stadium expanded with an additional 20,000 spots.
The east stand - the only remaining uncovered stand - was developed in the same style in 1973. With the first two stands converted by cantilevers, the club's owners devised a long-term plan to do the same to the other two stands and convert the stadium into a bowl-like arena. Such a construction would increase the atmosphere at the ground by containing the crowd's noise, while also focusing it onto the pitch, where the players would feel the full effects of a capacity crowd.
After the completion of the roof, the replacement of the old manual scoreboard with an electronic one in the northeast corner took place. The southeast quadrant was then removed and replaced in 1985 with a seated section bringing the total seating capacity of the stadium to 25,686 (56,385 overall). The completion of the cantilever roof around three sides of the stadium allowed for the replacement of the old floodlight pylons, and the attachment of a row of floodlights around the inner rim of the roof in 1987.
Theater of Dreams
Due to all the refurbishments, the upgrades and the new rules of 1991 (after the Hillsborough disaster and the subsequent Taylor Report) the capacity of Old Trafford was dropped to an all-time low of 44,000. Luckily, Sir Alex Ferguson took over as manager and this ignited years of success for the Mancunians. Several renovation plans were put into effect, with three stages. Firstly, the tiers of the Stretford End were increased. Secondly the East stand got a second tier and after that the West stand followed, raising the capacity to over 68,000 at that moment. Between 2005 and 2006 the latest extension took the capacity to the current level, adding second tiers to the northwest and northeast corners of the stadium.
After all the renovations, the stadium is now at a whopping 75,635 capacity, making it the second biggest ground in England after Wembley Stadium. Every spot of the stadium has a splendid view of the field, which is unique, compared to other, more old fashioned stadiums such as Everton’s Goodison Park. The stadium is an icon in the English Premier League, drawing a lot of attention not only locally but especially from people all around the world. The nickname was coined by Sir Bobby Charlton and it is nicely used in marketing efforts (especially when Sharp was the team’s shirt sponsor).
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food and beverage section in most parts of the stadium is rather standard. Please note that if you fancy an alcoholic beverage, you are only allowed to enjoy it on the concourse, with no view of the pitch. They cater the need to watch the game with screens, but if you like watching the game on the telly, you'd be better off heading to a bar.
The selection of food is divided into hot and cold options, with a hot dog changing hands for a grand total of £4.40! United branded sausage rolls are £4 and a pie can be had for £3.80, with a choice of meat, steak, chicken or cheese and onion. Cold options are grab bags such as Skittles or Maltesers, or Mars bars. Some chips are on offer as well, the former going for £3.30 and the Mars bar for £1.50. Hefty prices.
Drinks are on offer for £4.50 a beer or ale, £4.80 for wine and sodas for £2.90. Prices are comparable to the ones at Arsenal for example. They do have offers: 3 items for £7 and 6 items for £13. Snack and drink combos are on offer as well. Be prepared to spend a fair amount of money if you want to quench your thirst and leave with a full belly.
English stadiums are famous for their roar, a crowd that erupts wildly in cheer, supporting the club they love to the death. Famous examples are Liverpool (You'll Never Walk Alone most notably), Spurs or Newcastle. The particular English atmosphere is somehow lacking at United. Although the stadium itself oozes atmosphere, with the large stands, unobstructed views and closeness of the seats to the pitch, the people negate it quickly.
When the singing starts, finally, (Glory Glory Man United for example) half the crowd is still quiet, which is a pity. If you visit the games against bitter rivals Liverpool or city neighbours Manchester City it will be more lively and intense.
Old Trafford is not actually located in Manchester, but in neighbouring Salford to the northwest side of the city. All the best entertainment is located in Manchester city centre. The area around Old Trafford is part industrial, part residential. There's a hotel, part-owned by former United legend Gary Neville, conveniently located next to the stadium and there are some bars and food shops, although the quality of the food is rather lacklustre. You can grab a pre-match drink in The Bishop Blaize or at The Trafford. Otherwise, the neighbourhood is one to forget quickly. Go to the city centre for the best experience of Manchester.
Manchester has seen a huge spike in popularity, not only in England, but very much across the world. Especially since the Sir Alex Ferguson era, the club has become a brand, much more than just a football club. While this has been extremely useful for business, it has not been very positive for the fans. Ticket prices have skyrocketed, and with the popularity of the 'Man United' brand it has become more of a night out to go to Old Trafford.
It means that the old core of fans, who grew up with the legend of the Busby Babes, have largely abandoned the club. Even more so, a big group of fans were so dissatisfied with the big money, they created a totally new club, FC United of Manchester, which is slowly rising up through the ranks of English club football. The fans that go to the game now include many tourists. You will see a large crowd of people from Asia, Russia, mainland Europe and other countries further afield. The involvement of the fans is therefore less than before. Prepare for selfie-sticks galore in the stands.
Getting to the ground is fairly easy. During my recent visit, the opposing clubs supporters even walked to the ground from the city centre, which is still quite a hike. Otherwise, bus, metro and train services stop close to the ground and once you are there, access is easy. If you take the train, stop at the Manchester United football ground stop. Buses 255, 256 and 263 stop close to the ground as well.
There are separate spaces for people in wheelchairs, who enjoy quite some space, in contrast to the normal seats that are somewhat limited, especially if you are over 6'3.
While a visit to Old Trafford is on any stadium addict's bucket list, you have to dig deep to gain access to the hallowed ground. Ticket prices in the Premier League are sky high, starting at £37 for a general home game. On top of that, if you want to buy tickets, you have to become a member and pay £20 per year. If you want to have decent seats, be prepared to part with a whopping £70.
VIP packages are on offer as well, starting at £180 per person (incl VAT) going up to £359. You'll have a wining and dining experience, but is it worth it? Even more so, for the big games, all tickets are quickly sold out and are offered through all-inclusive game packages by tour operators, mostly doubling ticket prices. Reduced price tickets are normally available for youths, 18 to 20-year-olds and seniors (youths and seniors enjoy half price tickets). Season tickets go from £532 to £930. That'll put a dent in your pocket.
At least one thing in Manchester is top of the bill: the extras. You have plenty to choose from. Start with a visit to the humongous official store, with a wide array of merchandise, ranging from shirts to toilet paper and other things you can't even imagine.
Then take a stadium tour, which will also take you to the United Museum, stacked with memorabilia from the storied franchise. You can even take photos with the silverware that's on display. The magical stadium tour will take you to all the great places such as the dressing rooms and the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. There are also 'legends tours' on offer, where tours are conducted by former United greats.
The museum and stadium tours aren't available on matchdays. Tickets are £18 and £12 for kids. A family of four will pay £54 in total. Around the stadium you will find several memorials including one dedicated to Sir Matt Busby, a plaque to honor the victims of the Munich plane crash (including eight 'Busby Babes,' who tragically died in the disaster) and a statue of Sir Alex Ferguson, erected in 2012.
The inevitable deluge of money into the English Premier League has seen clubs chase profits, none more so than the Glazer family-owned Manchester United, who have proven quite adept at squeezing every penny out of the operation. Given the debt they incurred to afford the purchase of the club a decade ago, it is understandable from a business aspect, but has affected the matchday experience significantly. However, it is still one of the iconic English grounds to visit and is a must-see venue in itself.
It was a chilly yet sunny Saturday afternoon in October when I descended the platform of the Old Trafford Metrolink stop via the Altrincham line and headed straight towards Manchester United's home ground down Sir Matt Busby Way. I'd arrived early in the day to fulfill my life's purpose which left me plenty of time to snatch my tickets, have a stroll and soak up some of the incredible match day atmosphere that engulfed my surroundings.
After meeting my ticket 'contact' at a local pub called the Bishop's Blaze, I found a convenient little cart just outside of the pub serving fish n chips and fresh grilled sausage replete with delicious peppers and onions to assist me in my pre-match nutrition. I chose the latter which ended up being quite the tasty decision. After my little snack, I continued down Sir Matt Busby Way and entered into Old Trafford to see my beloved Manchester United go up 2-0 v West Brom only to concede that lead and draw the match 2-2.
It was a shaky performance from the Red Devils but an incredible day out and an experience I won't soon forget. During my time at Old Trafford, I sang, chanted and cheered on United with 76,000 supporters which proved an adequate reward from all the saving and planning that went into my first trip to the UK from the States.
Follow Jesse's football writing on twitter @JesseChula.
Manchester, England M3 2NW
0161 831 9930
57 Mosley St
Manchester, England M2 3FF
0161 228 7560
Trafford Wharf Rd, Stretford
Manchester, England M17 1TZ
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